Tangled Fates: Casting Racial And Economic Equality In Twentieth Century America

Katherine Lee Rader, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

This dissertation explores the development of racial and economic liberalism in twentieth-century America. It tells the story of how trade unions and racial advocacy organizations were working together—as well as fighting with each other—in national legislative and administrative debates over industrial policy amidst the consolidation of the New Deal political order. The role racial advocacy organizations played in these debates, and the different ideological and strategic positions they took, are often neglected in histories and analyses of the Civil Rights Movement. Existing accounts have paid significant attention to the development and origins of the efforts to end segregation, pass anti-lynching legislation, and end the poll tax, many of which took placed in the courts. By analyzing the opportunities racial advocacy organizations and labor unions had to build coalitions to influence industrial policy, this project sheds light on important efforts to press for social democratic political projects through the elected branches. These projects were notable in that they embraced both racial and economic goals, rooted in deep ideological differences among racial equality advocates in twentieth-century politics. Specifically, this analysis focuses on the internal debates and consistent tension among and within racial advocacy organizations and unions in balancing anti-discrimination goals with broader structural economic change. While the opportunities to pursue these coalitions expanded following the New Deal period, labor’s staggering defeat in the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act led to rifts and changes that ultimately steered racial advocacy organizations away from structural economic change and toward a narrower set of racial demands rooted in the courts.